Welcome to the good old days. I haven't taken Greyhound much since the storm, but the change is startling. Four prisoners in white T-shirts and rolled up jeans went to the back, followed by several tattooed women of diverse ages and sizes, and two small children. I sat near the front. Across the aisle from me was a middle-age woman with a 12-year-old girl, and behind her was a man her age with a 6-year-old boy. The driver did his spiel about no smoking, no drinking, no loud music and we were off.

The women in the back started out on a loud routine punctuated by obscenities every two words and laughing like they were saying the wittiest things. What they were saying, once I started to get the gist of it, is that they were up against the cops and everyone else and that they were refugees from New Orleans and weren't going to take any crap from anybody. They made helicopter noises, which they'd incorporated since the days when they were airlifted, and dissed Houston, where they were living. They were going back to New Orleans to take it back because that's where they were from and no (insert complete bad-name race list here) was going to keep them away from it. One of the children started whimpering, and his mother or someone else shouted, "Shut the ---- up! Go to sleep!" That was followed by something that sounded like a slap, to the general approval of the hooting gang.

A half-hour into this ride, the liquor and drugs or whatever else was making them giddy took even better hold and cigarette smoke started drifting frontward. The bus driver warned the smoker to put it out, but when all he got were cuss words, he turned on the air conditioner and the bus chilled like a freezer. Didn't stop the hollerers, who didn't feel it, but the rest of us were freezing.

My neighbors had been carrying on a low-voiced conversation about how bad New Orleans schools were and how they were going to leave as soon as their money came through. I caught a few words about the way the New Orleans "black community" was being treated by the authorities, but that sounded just like it came from the newspaper. These people were middle class and they were at pains to sound like they had nothing in common with the riffraff in the back.

When the cold became unbearable, I took my windbreaker out of my backpack and put it on. Everybody else just scrunched up. The two parents drew closer to their kids for heat. But no one said anything, either to the driver or to the ruffians back there. Fear ruled. The bus was nothing if not a microcosm of the city now.

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